By Tony Attwood
There is a piece in the Guardian today which says, “The bond the match-going contingent shares with his players feels stronger than with any Arsenal team for many a year.”
Maybe that’s so, although it seems rather a simplistic and possibly misleading claim. When a club is winning, winning and winning, as Arsenal has been of late, everyone celebrates together and so a bond seems to be formed. That there might not be much of a bond between the club and fans at West Ham United or Leicester City at the moment would hardly be a surprise given their positions in the league and the hype of expectation the media indulged in for the clubs in the summer, but it is there at Arsenal.
The Guardian’s piece also suggests that “Arsenal’s £79m summer transfer net spend looks meaty” although it notes it is dwarfed by Chelsea’s spending. But really that is misleading, for the self-same paper has published all the figures from the last window (if only their correspondent would walk across the office to pick up their library copy to check the data).
A selection of the net transfer figures from the Guardian for just a few of the teams in the Premier League in the last window read
- Chelsea £223m
- Manchester United £174m
- West Ham United £146m
- Newcastle United £115m
- Tottenham Hotspur £113m
- Arsenal £90m
And just to make that clear Chelsea spent 247% of the amount Arsenal forked out. With Manchester United it was 193%, and even little West Ham United used up 162% of Arsenal’s net spend.
So the expenditure by Arsenal was not that meaty when compared with the other big boys, and if there is an extra link between players and fans (which I would agree there is) it hasn’t come from that.
This link is something that has been growing for some time. It was, for example, highly noticeable on 24 February this year, when Arsenal beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1. Wolverhampton played a most appallingly cynical game which united the crowd against them, for having scored in the 10th minute they retreated into an 11-man defence for the rest of the game and simply refused to play football. So when Arsenal scored (technically it was put down as an own goal) in what seemed to be the 7th minute of injury time, the stadium erupted.
And that eruption stayed. I have never known the stadium, the area around the ground, and even streets some distance from the ground, that noisy after a match. Arsenal had overcome the most awful negative cynical style of play, and got the victory in the last seconds – and that allowed the expression of a huge link between players and fans.
But there is more than this, for I think there is a stronger recognition by the club of the need to link with the match-going fans than we have seen for some time.
One of the most obvious expressions of this is the establishment of a noisy, vigorous, bouncing up and down group of black-shirted fans behind the goal at the clock end. While the gnarled old timers in the north bank can become frustrated when things don’t go Arsenal’s way, this new manifestation of support really does show everyone how support should be – and it continues throughout the game.
Plus there is the song. As I have commented before, we now have our own song, a song unique to Arsenal, and “North London Forever” is sung by a huge number of people in the stadium immediately before kick off at each game, and that really does make an impact.
And I think the feeling is better not just because of the fans in the stadium, but an increased willingness of the club to listen to supporters through organisations like the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association
Of course, I have no idea what is going to happen on the pitch: we might charge ahead and win the league, or we might end up third – which will then be painted by the media as a failure and a setback (forgetting that the media universally predicted Arsenal would finish this season in fifth). But I do think there is a new impetus in the ground, and a new positive feeling among fans which goes beyond the run of success this season.
The united decision of journalists to write off Arsenal this year before the season started has made those scribblers look even more pathetic than they looked last season with their hysteria over the first three games, their childish claims to be using a “supercomputer” to predict the league outcome, and their abject refusal to recognise that over the last 35 games of last season Arsenal were the third best performing team in the league.
But those same journalists now praising Arsenal remain poised ready to start snarling once again. What stands against them is the unification of the crowd in the ground and the players on the pitch. Long may it last.
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- Arsenal and Tottenham: which has had the easier ride so far this season?
- Arsenal v Tottenham: not exactly a battle of equals.
- Death by 300,000 passes: how the Arsenal transformation started 2 seasons ago.